Footage of Chernobyl liquidators

Originally published at:


It’s a great show. Depressing, yes. Especially when you think that nuclear power is our best chance to go on living the way we live now in terms of energy consumption.


Sometimes when I watch old shows that are optimistic about the future - (I’m specifically thinking of the disneyland TV show tomorrowland episodes), it just makes me sad and anxious. All these visions for a great big beautiful tomorrow that didn’t consider the disastrous environmental costs of things like plastics and nuclear power. I want to be optimistic, and i hope technology will mitigate the problems. I suppose we’re better off than we were in the turn of the last century, pollution wise, when cities were buried in black clouds of smog. But then i read about plastic nano particles and cities of toxic electronic waste and i get pretty dang depressed. Here’s hoping for an actual great big beautiful tomorrow where we find solutions to those things.


Well, it’s at least part of the mix. As Fukushima demonstrated, it’s tough to keep these plants safe, but it’s also important not to downplay the host of technical, political, and bureaucratic failures that led directly to the Chernobyl disaster. The show does a good job of pointing those out; Adam Higginbotham’s very good Midnight in Chernobyl digs even further into the details.

It’s evident that we can do better than Chernobyl because it is (at least so far) a (totally horrifying) one-off, despite 50+ years of nuclear power. Of course, as Chernobyl illustrates, the price for getting it wrong is very, very high.


I remember Chernobyl. I was five years old, a few months from turning six. I didn´t understand what happend back then, only that I wasn´t allowed to go to the playground for several months and that we didn´t eat fresh vegetables anymore, as I know today that was because of the nuclear fallout cloud that drifted across Europe. Even today we feel the aftermath, if you collect mushrooms you not only have to check if they are poisious but also if there is a radioactive contermination, which is still over 30 years later lingering in the soil. Oh, and we have radioactive boars in Germany:


If you want to watch the other grimmest thing on UK TV, check out Shane Meadows’ The Virtues.

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Yeah I think renewables are the long-term answer but we need something besides fossil fuels to get us there.

And of course there was Three Mile Island, but it was apparently much less dangerous and damaging.

One of the remarkable features of the original footage was the white noise in the pictures. It was caused by the radiation from the reactor core hitting the camera tube. IMHO it would have been more impressive if they had emulated this effect - you could literally see the danger these men were in.


I think this was posted only a few days ago here on BBS:

Nuclear energy is a dead end, we should concentrate on other technologies.


DH and I were curious about how the Chernobyl incident compared to Fukushima. After some research, we concluded that despite the fact that Fukushima was a meltdown aided and abetted by a natural disaster, Chernobyl still was orders of magnitude worse, for radiation released, local impact, etc. etc.

Three Mile Island had a few key safety features missing from the Chernobyl design, the most important being a wall. When accumulated hydrogen gas inside the TMI reactor building exploded, the wall held.

After 5000 years of practice engineers are good at building walls.

I was working at a Canadian nuclear plant when Chernobyl happened; it was interesting to hear the engineers on the shift bus talking about how to manage the accident, then a couple of days later see the Soviets doing exactly that. I look forward to seeing this series, the last proper update I had on the topic was in the early 90’s from a former nuclear sub guy.


best known example of this is the footage of filmmaker Mihail Nazarenko, who started filming in Pripyat (3 kilometers away of the plant) on 16 mm early morning of the “accident” and the following days, stills of the first rolls of film:

thats about 6 to 8 hours after the explosion; these white dots are actually radioactive particles from the burning core on the film.

you can find this footage online, Nazarenko made a short 10-minutes documentary out of it, called “It is Unforgettable”.

and yes, the TV-show is remarkable, extremly well done, lots of great details and overwhelming depressing. highest recommendation, go see it everyone who hasnt so far.

absolutly. a graphite burning, melting core, with no housing whatsoever, completly open to the atmosphere. the explosion was so forceful, it blew the 1000-ton (!) biological-shield-lid on top of the reactor through the roof. that is true nuclear apocalypse.


I would rather say, the most important not being a graphite-moderated reactor.

a lot of the narrative had changed since then.

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Yeah, I picked “wall” since it was the safety system of last resort, but point taken. Graphite moderator, aluminium tips on the shut-off rods (a neutron transparent bonus feature), no secondary reactor boron/gadolinium poison system IIRC (even possible?), an emergency cooling water system that could be shut off at all, an emergency control rod-drop system that could be overridden, 15 seconds for it to shut down at all… all IIRC… it’s been a while…

It’s a shame that global “nuclear superpower” competition and other economic (e.g. heavy water is wildly expensive and dangerous to refine) and political factors got in the way of co-operating to build better systems. Nuclear IMHO can be done right, but it’s not (quite) as cheap as the “too cheap to meter” we’d hoped for in the 50’s.

theoreticaly it can; but even if its done so right, that it would be considered mostly “safe” and an accident could be realy contained…Im still on the fence here, cause you still got the waste. and thats a real problem. and completely apart from the problem of weaponized material for nuclear weapons, made in “civil” reactors.

no, I think if we got a future as a high-technology-species anyway, and renewable sources arent enough, it wont be fission but this:

it was just 500 million euro to build this demonstrator and so far, it works much better than even expected. first continuous plasma-operation for 30 minutes will be in 2021.


Ah, ahem, yes… civilian reactors making weapons material… Canadians at this point direct your attention away from that touchy little point :thinking: oooh, look at our clever fuelling systems … and trust you never actually visit Port Hope, Ontario. As for waste, vitrification in borosilicate and a very, very deep hole and you can get back to natural, geological concentrations. And, as our southern cousins found out the hard way, when the instructions say “fill the barrel with cat litter” it means the clay type, not the wheat type.

Wendelstein 7, yes, I’ve following that one, just at a news/Wikipedia level… it looks like brilliant stuff and the engineering and manufacturing is mad genius. You’ve inspired me to catch up on the project. I’d love to dig into fusion as a research problem, I agree that it’s the best case way forward for energy by any measure.

I found it cautionary when I learned that the sun generates of the order of a couple hundred watts per cubic metre; it’s a very gentle heat on average. I think it was Teller’s idea for fusion power to let off fusion bombs deep underground then extract the heat.


Sure sounds like him; Teller was a madman. which reminds me of this exellent BBC-series from 1980:

remaining 6 episodes foundable with

dont let the age of the show fool you, its brilliant.


I still have to find something Teller didnt think could be achieved by using bombs. Not nuclear energy - bombs.

I mean, if you tell me he recommended using fusion bombs to heat your kettle of tea, I would not doubt you for a minute


I’m not having any luck finding it right now, phones are the computer you use because they are there not because they are good; but I remember one particularly striking image where the various metal components involved in the camera’s film-feed mechanism were visible in the image:

The design of the camera obviously kept them out of the light path to avoid spoiling the edges of normal exposures; but since the metal bits were more radio-opaque than the light-protective housing the film received a exposure of them as it passed through the camera.

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That just seems redundant: we have massive internal heat in no small part because of nuclear decay(though no fusion at our size); so dealing with nontrivial tectonic events and thermonuclear warheads just to get some geothermal power seems silly.

At least with surface nukes the energy they offer doesn’t have an obvious alternative source(in the broad sense there are obviously many ways to make electricity; but big fat thermal sources that will produce enough steam to drive hundreds of megawatts of turbines aren’t exactly common occurrences; so any surface thermal power plant involves some sort of large scale tinkering to provide an energy source).

Even by the low standards of some of the Project Plowshare/Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy stuff using nukes to produce artificial geothermal energy seems weird.